Human All-Too-Human, Part 1

Page 26 of 70


Now to sum up. That condition of soul in which the saint or embryo saint rejoiced, was composed of elements which we all know well, only that under the influence of other than religious conceptions they exhibit themselves in other colours and are then accustomed to encounter man's blame as fully as, with that decoration of religion and the ultimate meaning[Pg 148] of existence, they may reckon on receiving admiration and even worship,—might reckon, at least, in former ages. Sometimes the saint practises that defiance of himself which is a near relative of domination at any cost and gives a feeling of power even to the most lonely; sometimes his swollen sensibility leaps from the desire to let his passions have full play into the desire to overthrow them like wild horses under the mighty pressure of a proud spirit; sometimes he desires a complete cessation of all disturbing, tormenting, irritating sensations, a waking sleep, a lasting rest in the lap of a dull, animal, and plant-like indolence; sometimes he seeks strife and arouses it within himself, because boredom has shown him its yawning countenance. He scourges his self-adoration with self-contempt and cruelty, he rejoices in the wild tumult of his desires and the sharp pain of sin, even in the idea of being lost; he understands how to lay a trap for his emotions, for instance even for his keen love of ruling, so that he sinks into the most utter abasement and his tormented soul is thrown out of joint by this contrast; and finally, if he longs for visions, conversations with the dead or with divine beings, it is at bottom a rare kind of delight that he covets, perhaps that delight in which all others are united. Novalis, an authority on questions of holiness through experience and instinct, tells the whole secret with nave joy: "It is strange enough that the association of lust, religion, and cruelty did not long ago[Pg 149] draw men's attention to their close relationship and common tendency."


That which gives the saint his historical value is not the thing he is, but the thing he represents in the eyes of the unsaintly. It was through the fact that errors were made about him, that the state of his soul was falsely interpreted, that men separated themselves from him as much as possible, as from something incomparable and strangely superhuman, that he acquired the extraordinary power which he exercised over the imagination of whole nations and whole ages. He did not know himself; he himself interpreted the writing of his moods, inclinations, and actions according to an art of interpretation which was as exaggerated and artificial as the spiritual interpretation of the Bible. The distorted and diseased in his nature, with its combination of intellectual poverty, evil knowledge, ruined health, and over-excited nerves, remained hidden from his own sight as well as from that of his spectators. He was not a particularly good man, and still less was he a particularly wise one; but he represented something that exceeded the human standard in goodness and wisdom. The belief in him supported the belief in the divine and miraculous, in a religious meaning of all existence, in an impending day of judgment. In the evening glory of the world's sunset, which glowed over[Pg 150] the Christian nations, the shadowy form of the saint grew to vast dimensions, it grew to such a height that even in our own age, which no longer believes in God, there are still thinkers who believe in the saint.


It need not be said that to this description of the saint which has been made from an average of the whole species, there may be opposed many a description which could give a more agreeable impression. Certain exceptions stand out from among this species, it may be through great mildness and philanthropy, it may be through the magic of unusual energy; others are attractive in the highest degree, because certain wild ravings have poured streams of light on their whole being, as is the case, for instance, with the famous founder of Christianity, who thought he was the Son of God and therefore felt himself sinless—so that through this idea—which we must not judge too hardly because the whole antique world swarms with sons of God—he reached that same goal, that feeling of complete sinlessness, complete irresponsibility, which every one can now acquire by means of science. Neither have I mentioned the Indian saints, who stand midway between the Christian saint and the Greek philosopher, and in so far represent no pure type. Knowledge, science—such as existed then—the uplifting above other men through logical[Pg 151] discipline and training of thought, were as much fostered by the Buddhists as distinguishing signs of holiness as the same qualities in the Christian world are repressed and branded as signs of unholiness.

[1] Why harass with eternal designs a mind too weak to compass them? Why do we not, as we lie beneath a lofty plane-tree or this pine [drink while we may]? HOR., Odes III. ii. 11-14.—J.M.K.

[2] "All greatest sages of all latest ages
Will chuckle and slily agree,
'Tis folly to wait till a fool's empty pate
Has learnt to be knowing and free:
So children of wisdom, make use of the fools
And use them whenever you can as your tools."—J.M.K.

[3] It may be remembered that the cross was the gallows of the ancient world.—J.M.K.

[4] This may give us one of the reasons for the religiosity still happily prevailing in England and the United States.—J.M.K.

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The Perfect Should Not Have Grown.—With regard to everything that is perfect we are accustomed to omit the question as to how perfection has been acquired, and we only rejoice in the present as if it had sprung out of the ground by magic. Probably with regard to this matter we are still under the effects of an ancient mythological feeling. It still almost seems to us (in such a Greek temple, for instance, as that of Pstum) as if one morning a god in sport had built his dwelling of such enormous masses, at other times it seems as if his spirit had suddenly entered into a stone and now desired to speak through it. The artist knows that his work is only fully effective if it arouses the belief in an improvisation, in a marvellous instantaneousness of origin; and thus he assists this illusion and introduces into art those elements of inspired unrest, of blindly groping disorder, of listening dreaming at the beginning of creation, as a means of deception, in order so to influence the soul of the spectator or hearer that it may[Pg 154] believe in the sudden appearance of the perfect. It is the business of the science of art to contradict this illusion most decidedly, and to show up the mistakes and pampering of the intellect, by means of which it falls into the artist's trap.

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